World Wetlands Day: How About A Little Respect for the Waters We Depend On?

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone? They pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Joni Mitchell first sang this lament in 1970 – at the dawn of the environmental movement – and on February 2, 1971, world leaders adopted the Convention of Wetlands in Ramsar, Iran, on the Caspian Sea, to provide the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Now, the environmental spirit of the 70’s lives on and February 2 is officially recognized as World Wetlands Day, providing the perfect time to reflect on the great value of our wetlands.

A Bittersweet Anniversary for the Clean Water Act

Protect river otters and their native wetland habitats. (Photo: Eric Kilby/ekilby Flickr)

In 1972, Congress recognized the importance of protecting wetlands and other “waters of the United States” when it passed the landmark Clean Water Act. For almost 30 years, this key environmental safeguard put America on the path toward much cleaner water and dramatic reductions in wetland loss. This year is the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, but it will be one without much celebration, unless the administration acts swiftly to restore protections that once helped stem the loss of wetlands and maintain clean water.

The erosion of clean water protections is taking a serious toll on wetlands. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wetland losses are once again on the increase after decades of success protecting these vital ecosystems. These massive wetland losses harm people and wildlife. Wetlands provide flood protection, clean drinking water and provide habitat for wildlife such as waterfowl, trout, frogs and river otters.

Restore Protections for Wetlands

More than 20 million acres of wetlands and about 2 million miles of streams in the continental U.S. are at risk of losing the same Clean Water Act protections that successfully cleaned up the nation’s waters following passage of the Act in 1972.

America needs to renew its commitment to clean water so that we do not slide back into that time almost four decades ago when you could light a river on fire because of the pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers must act soon to finalize a revised Clean Water Act guidance and rule-making to safeguard our waterways and wetlands.

Take ActionIn honor of World Wetlands Day, urge the Administration to restore longstanding Clean Water Act protections for our nation’s wetlands, lakes, and streams before they are gone.

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Published: February 2, 2012